Where the Mississippi Pauses...
As one of the oldest towns established in Minnesota in 1848, Little Falls offers visitors a glimpse into the past through its historical tours of mansions and museums that tell the stories of Little Falls and Minnesota history.
At the center of Minnesota, the river pauses. The Ojibwa called it KaKaBikans (the little squarely cut-off rock), a place where the water tumbles over an out-cropping of slate and granite to form a beautiful and sometimes tempestuous waterfall.
Crystal water bubbles over a bed of rocks forming a stream that exits Lake Itasca to become one of the world's major rivers. The Mississippi River begins its journey through Minnesota's north country, gathering strength from the numerous tributaries entering its banks.
For centuries, native inhabitants knew it well. It was a place for gathering, a resource and sometimes a site of conflict for the Dakota, the Ojibwa and the Winnebago. Explorers described it in their journals. Lt. Zebulon Pike (1805) called it "a remarkable rapid in the river, opposite a high piny island." Joseph Nicollet (1837), a French man, called it "petite chutes". Henry Schoolcraft and J.C. Beltrami also noted the falls. The diaries of fur traders and missionaries also gave vivid accounts.
The beautiful falls on the Mississippi River attracted native inhabitants, explorers, traders and settlers. By the 1880's, a surge in immigration, railroad expansion and industrial development created a boom. In 1889, Little Falls was incorporated as a City. It is the third oldest city in the state. Due to local brick-making industries, by 1890, large brick buildings replaced the former wooden storefronts. Within a two-year period, the population had doubled, reaching 4,699.
Major industries that contributed to the growth of Little Falls were the Pine Tree Lumber Company, Hennepin Paper Company, and two large flour mills. Smaller industries included the Kiewel Brewery, a sash and door factory and a horseshoe factory. Carpenters, cigar manufacturers and blacksmiths were among the numerous tradesmen setting up shop. A major contributor to the economic growth of Little Falls was the surrounding diversified farming. Also evident was a vibrant social and religious community.
When the lumber and flour milling industries declined, others sprang up. Most notable was boat building, which began with the Larson Boat Company, in the 1920's. Boat building was the driving force in Little Falls' industry for nearly 100 years. The City of Little Falls continues to grow with new and innovative, startup companies. Little Falls is home to Hoonuit, an international software company; Lakemaster, a lake mapping software company; AirBorn Inc, a specialty connector company; Wabash National, a leading refrigerated trailer company; Falls Fabricating, a metal fabricating facility; DJ Products, a power trailer moving manufacturer; Mielke Oil, a lubricant and fuel distributor; and Little Falls Machine, a nationally known plow manufacturer. The growth of Little Falls continues, thanks to the early entrepreneurs whose vision gave it impetus.
Without a doubt, the most famous native of Little Falls is Charles A. Lindbergh, an internationally renowned aviator and environmentalist. As the Mississippi built its strength from the streams of central Minnesota, so too were Lindbergh’s own beginnings shaped by his experiences in Little Falls. He spent his boyhood on the Mississippi River, enjoying his summers in a house built by his father on the west bank of the river south of town. His father was a lawyer, politician, and real estate broker. His mother was well-educated and taught high school chemistry. Both parents gave their son courage and independence, which the younger Lindbergh described this way: “...he’d (father) let me walk behind him with a loaded gun at seven, use an axe as soon as I had the strength to swing it, and drive his Ford car anywhere at twelve. Age seemed to make no difference to him. My freedom was complete. All he asked was responsibility in return.” In 1927, the resourceful, independent 25-year-old made the first non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris, a feat which brought him instant fame and recognition. However, Lindbergh wanted to be known as more than just an aviator. He was also an accomplished inventor and sincere environmentalist, concerned deeply about the impact of technology on the natural world. Still, it’s his solo flight across the Atlantic that resulted in his highest honors. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor for the flight, and his recollection of the event captured in his autobiography, The Spirit of St. Louis, won him a Pulitzer Prize for literature. In 1931, the Lindbergh family gave the entire 110 acres and summer house to the State of Minnesota in recognition of the elder Charles A. Lindbergh’s life and accomplishments. In 1969, the house and 17 adjacent acres were placed under the management of the Minnesota Historical Society to preserve and interpret the Lindbergh story. Today, visitors can see the 1906 house with original artifacts throughout, and experience Lindbergh’s relevance today.